Takashi Miike still stands as one of my all-time favorite directors, even though the
quality of his recent output has somewhat diminished. It isn't easy to
pick one film from his vast oeuvre that stands out as his absolute best,
but after some thorough soul-searching 46-Okunen no Koi is the film
that survived all scrutiny. It's and arthouse flick, it has dancing, gay
prison inmates and space rockets: vintage Miike in other words.
Miike never really made a true "classic" arthouse flick, but between
this film and Izo there are enough elements that suggest Miike was
aiming for a little more than mere entertainment with these films. While
at its very core 46-Okunen no Koi is just a simple whodunnit, there is
enough artistic value (and artistic weirdness) here, pulling this film
purposely away from mere genre film making and creating a hybrid of two
incompatible worlds that may be greater than the sum of its parts.
When the first images of 46-Okunen no Koi surfaced some people assumed
Miike was stepping into the footsteps of Lars Von Trier's Dogville. And
while some sets indeed resembled the idea behind Dogville's minimalism
(prison cages marked by lines drawn on the floor), Miike is not one to
abide by a strict set of rules. So yeah, there's a bit of Dogville in
here, but the resulting film is completely different from anything Von
Trier would and could ever direct.
After a short introduction featuring a modern interpretation of an old
tribal ritual, we warp to an unnamed prison in an unnamed time,
witnessing the murder of Shiro by one of his fellow cell mates, Jun. Jun
is quick to confess his crime, but apparently there is more than meets
the eye. The film then warps back to the moment Shiro and Jun were
admitted to the prison, following their tale of repressed friendship
within the prison walls through several flashbacks and changes of
perspective, ultimately revealing the true motives behind the murder.
Visually speaking 46-Okunen no Koi is a pretty unique film. It may not
be as minimal as Dogville but it's definitely way more abstract than
most other films out there, removing all unneeded objects and obsolete
visual impulses from the settings. The camera work is classy, the use of
color very defining for the film's atmosphere (46-Okunen no Koi is very
much a yellow film). Some of the CG is still too intruding for my
taste, but at least it's functional and it serves a good purpose.
The score may go by somewhat unnoticed at first (it may even come off as
a little generic), but upon closer inspection (and multiple viewings)
it does prove its value. There is some memorable background music here
that sets the right mood and allows you to be pulled in much faster then
often the case. While watching this film I'm usually too transfixed by
the on-screen events to notice, but the soundtrack is definitely an
essential part of the experience here.
As for the acting, Miike was able to assemble a tremendous cast.
Masanobu Ando and Ryuhei Matsuda are both excellent as Shiro and Jun
(and I wouldn't be surprised if both characters were actually scripted
with these two actors in mind), secondary roles are equally impressive
with Ryo Ishibashi and Ken'Ichi Endo as most notable examples. Between
these four actors you have plenty of talent used to portraying such a
set of strange characters while keeping performances straight-faced and
Miike has never shied away from some playful experimentation left and
right, but he does take it to the next level in 46-Okunen no Koi. He
mixes different narratives and time lapses, at times fading characters
away from particular scenes or simply adding dialogues without the
actual characters present. The result is a world that remains mysterious
and exciting, as it does not even seem to conform to any internal rules
or limitations. Miike plays with the expectations of his audience (the
scene where Endo suddenly steps through a window) and keeps you guessing
until the very end.
I must admit that even though I love the poetic nature of this film, I
never really made an effort to uncover any hidden layers or tried to
explain the symbolism in 46-Okunen no Koi. Others may have their fun
figuring out what motivated Miike to make this film the way it is, and
I'm sure you could come up with some amazing theories for this film, but
that's just not my cup of tea. I keep coming back for the atmosphere
and the poetic trip Miike has on offer, which suits me plenty.
If you want to see a more experimental and serious side of Miike, this
film is definitely recommended. Sure enough the film has its fair share
of weird moments, but all the weirdness does seem to serve a higher,
more artistic goal here. So far Miike hasn't been able to match
46-Okunen no Koi and as he slowly shifted towards more commercial cinema
I wonder if he will ever be able to top it, but whatever the future
brings, Miike clearly demonstrated that he has skills that transcend the
realm of obscure genre film making.
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